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-0                                                                                                    B. POLEVOI
a friend or foe, he emitted a triumphant yell, sprang to
his feet, rushed towards the spot the voice had come from
and at once collapsed as if he had been felled, dropping
his pistol in the snow-----
14
Collapsing after an unsuccessful attempt to get up,
Alexei lost consciousness, but the sense of imminent danger
immediately brought him round. No doubt there were
people hiding in the pines, watching and whispering to
each other.
He rose up on his arms, picked his pistol up from the
snow, keeping it out of sight, close to the ground, and
began to watch. Danger had completely drawn him out
of his state of oblivion. His mind was working with pre-
cision. Who were these people? Perhaps lumbermen whom
the Germans had forced to come here to prepare fire-
wood? Perhaps they were Russians who, like himself,
were surrounded, and were now trying to get through
the German lines to their own people? Or, perhaps,
peasants living in the vicinity? After all, he did hear
somebody exclaim distinctly: "A man!"
The pistol trembled in his hand that was numb from
crawling; but he was prepared to fight and make good
use of his remaining three bullets....
Just at that moment an excited childish voice called
from the clump of trees:
"Hey! Who are you? Doitch? Fershteh?"
These strange words put Alexei on the alert, but it
was undoubtedly a Russian who called, and undoubtedly
a child.
"What are you doing here?" another childish voice in-
quired.
"And who are you?" retorted Alexei and stopped,
amazed at the faintness and feebleness of his voice.
This question must have caused a sensation among
the trees, for whoever were there held a long whispered
consultation, accompanied, evidently, with excited
gesticulations, for the branches swayed wildly.
"Stop kidding, you can't fool us! I can tell a German
miles off. Are you Doitch?"